Issue 008

Witness Video Hub

The Witness Video Hub is helping people document human rights abuses when YouTube and governments don't cooperate. Plus Big Thinker Sushmita Ghosh.

When Peter Gabriel co-founded Witness in 1992, the idea was to supply video cameras to people in the developing world to document human rights abuses. But the market beat them to it: Africa's cell-phone industry is the fastest growing in the world, and nearly everyone with a phone has or will soon have a camera. So Witness has changed gears, and is now focusing on capturing, amplifying, and disseminating user-generated videos.If someone captures footage of torture in, say, Burma, and posts it to YouTube, two things may happen. YouTube may take the video down for violating its policy against violent footage, and Burma may shut down the country's internet, as is did earlier this year when citizen journalists uploaded videos of police beating saffron-robed monks. Unlike Burma, most states with an interest in repressing speech (think China) cannot afford to shut down an entire nation's internet capabilities; instead, they censor individual websites. That's where Witness comes in: It can ensure that videos uploaded to their site are held there permanently, in servers sitting in an undisclosed country.BIG THINKER:

Sushmita Ghosh

The open-source concept created a whole new way of doing business, reinventing the pathway to huge scale and impact. For example, eBay has the users doing the work, in a self-regulating community. The trick is to simply think through the incentives for the community to grow itself in a transparent way, for collective conscience to rise against someone who breaches the code of ethics. I believe that applying these open source principles to the building of a global network of communities could redefine how social innovations get big. This approach could unite and amplify those innovations and greatly accelerate their impact-just as it did for business. Innovators who are driven by the desire to fix social problems have a built-in incentive to make the engineering of their solutions totally transparent, because that's the only way they're going to spread their change.Sushmita Ghosh served a five-year term as president of Ashoka (one of GOOD's nonprofit partners) and is now as a member of Ashoka's Leadership Team.

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Useful Void

Harvard professor Viktor Mayer-Schöenberger thinks the internet should learn to forget.

The Harvard professor Viktor Mayer-Schöenberger thinks the internet should learn to forget. He argues that because trivial and private information has died with people for millennia, the web-which has become a repository of everything both trivial and private about each of us-shouldn't change that potential for a "useful void." He is advocating for "data ecology" which would, among other things, allow people to privately use the web without leaving a public (and permanent) record of their every move therein. Good news for anyone who's ever tasted the noxious mix of scotch and MySpace.

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Spore is putting the nerdy stuff back into video games. Plus Big Thinker Nicholas Negroponte.

For a vision of Earth populated not by pesky humans but by benevolent sentient birds with claws and spiny tails, look no further than Spore, the long delayed game from legendary designer Will Wright (SimCity, The Sims), which will be released this year. In the game, you help your tiny protozoa evolve slowly into a thriving civilization bent on interplanetary conflict (the other planets are populated by the creations of other networked Spore players). As games find more and more ways of mindlessly blowing people up-we're looking at you, Halo-it's great to see someone putting the nerdy parts back into video games (but fear not, there will certainly be explosions).BIG THINKER:

Nicholas Negroponte

All of us learn to walk and talk by interacting with the world around us, getting immediate rewards for doing so. Suddenly, at about age 6, we do most or all of our learning by being told, either by books or teachers. Very little is left to play and interaction. In general, computers in education will change that, making a child's learning more seamless, more directly in his or her control.I am often asked how I know One Laptop Per Child will work. And yet each person who asks me has given his child or grandchild a laptop or desktop computer. Does this mean it is good for the rich, but maybe not for the poor? Then people ask me, why give a laptop to a child who is malnourished, unclothed, and without pure drinking water? My reply is simple. Substitute the word "education" for "laptop" and you will never ask that again.Nicholas Negroponte is the director of One Laptop Per Child, a nonprofit humanitarian organization that has produced an inexpensive, internet-connected laptop to distribute to children around the world.

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